Driving the Community Forward

A former NewGround partner helps the residents of Wingham, ON, with auto repair – and spiritual care!

Written by: Karla Winham, NewGround Coordinator, Diaconal Ministries Canada

In a small, rural town like Wingham, Ontario, public transportation is limited therefore most people need a car. Yet not everyone can afford to maintain one. When car enthusiasts at Maitland River Community Church saw a story about a ministry in Chicago that offered free car repairs to low income residents, they wondered if this could be a worthwhile ministry to have in their own town. The group decided to take a road trip to Chicago to check it out. What they found was a ministry called Christian Automotive Repair Service (CARS), where backyard mechanics and “car guys” volunteered their time to do basic automotive repairs for those who didn’t have the means to pay a regular repair shop. They brought the idea home to Wingham and started helping single moms with oil changes at the church.

“It took a few years to get established with the right insurance and not-for-profit status,” says Albert Teeninga, who manages the CARS garage in Wingham. “We’ve been learning as we go.” When a church member provided affordable rental space in the self-storage building right across from the church, the time was right to build a proper garage. That’s when NewGround (then called Operation Manna) came in! In 2010, the CARS ministry received a NewGround grant to renovate the shop and get a hoist. This was the boost they needed (literally!) and the ministry has grown since then; over the years, they have added another hoist and other equipment, and two licensed mechanics joined their team of volunteers. One evening a week, these volunteers gather at the shop to work on cars, followed by small group and prayer time.

Today, CARS is a thriving non-for-profit business that fixes and maintains around 100 cars every year. Most of the customers are on government assistance of some sort – single moms, seniors, and people with disabilities. Customers are required to pay for parts when needed, but saving on labour costs allows them to use more of their money for other necessities. Teeninga always takes time to talk with customers as they wait for their car to be fixed. He learns their stories, and will often help them find other resources in the community. The location of the shop is ideal as the same plaza also houses a Youth Unlimited drop-in centre, a food bank, and a counselling service. 

“In this ministry, you get people to come to you without talking about religion,” Teeninga says. “When the car is done, we all get together with the customer and ask if we can pray for them – they never refuse! So I get to mention in my prayer that God loves everyone and it helps them understand why we do what we do.”

Tim (left) and Albert (middle) sitting down where the volunteers meet for “Devotions and Discussion”; here they are talking with one of the CARS customers who was getting her vehicle repaired.

This community ministry blesses its volunteers as much as its customers by building relationships and trust. Each week when they gather to work on vehicles, “there’s always time to have a small group and just hang out with some good guys,” says Teeninga. “Even the volunteers who don’t go to church stay for our small group time.” Teeninga says this allows him to get to know the volunteers and customers alike. He often invites them to Alpha groups; a number of current church members first came to church through the CARS ministry.

Doug Kuyvenhoven, CARS’ bookkeeper and a former deacon at Maitland, believes this is what has made this ministry last. “It has to be more than just ‘serving’ [for the volunteers],” he shared. “There needs to be a spiritual connection to it. The small group time gives the volunteers time together and a safe space to talk. That’s why they keep coming back, even though some of them don’t even go to church.”

Kuyvenhoven says it’s a team effort and he gives Teeninga a lot of the credit for this thriving ministry. “It needs a leader who is able to inspire others to walk alongside it. It also requires someone to do the business end of things in the background.” 

Because it is deemed not-for-profit and is not a registered charity, CARS can’t receive financial donations from the church or community. Instead, the ministry’s main source of funding is received by selling old cars that are donated, either by fixing them up and making them road-worthy, or by selling them for scrap. Church members offer support in many ways, including donating old vehicles and car parts, volunteering in the shop, and offering professional services.

“I think you can say this is a [NewGround] success story,” Teeninga shared. “God has been faithful all these years, and we’re still at it.”

Teeninga’s dream is to see CARS ministry garages opening up in towns and cities right across Canada. 

“A year or so after the hoist went in, Classis Huron held its meeting across the street, at Maitland River Community Church,” recalls Fred Vandersterre, diaconal coach in Classis Huron and the newly appointed Stated Clerk. “After lunch, the CARS team did a presentation about their ministry and invited the delegates to cross the street and check out the shop! I have noticed that when a diaconal project like this is highlighted at a classis meeting, many of the delegates will sit up and pay attention and ‘field trips’ like this often receive very positive feedback.”

If churches or groups are interested in starting an affiliate CARS ministry in their area, Teeninga and his team would love to help! 

Wondering what YOUR church could do in and with your local community to help it and the people in it flourish? NewGround can help! Find out more about our programs and initiatives.

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